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Cruz takes jabs at Trump during lunch stop at Charlie the Butcher’s

Ted Cruz stopped at Charlie the Butcher’s for a beef on weck Thursday. But out in the parking lot, he first gnawed away at Donald J. Trump.

“Nationwide, about 70 percent of Republicans recognize that if Donald Trump is the nominee, Hillary Clinton wins,” Cruz told a crush of reporters. “Hillary beats Donald Trump by double-digits,” Cruz warned, describing a Clinton victory as a descent into a dark time for conservatives like him.

“If I am the nominee, we beat Hillary,” he said.

While polls show Cruz does better against Clinton than Trump, it’s unclear how Cruz backs up his statement that he beats Clinton if she becomes the Democratic nominee. The average of national polls posted on RealClearPolitics puts Clinton at 46.1 percent and Cruz at 43.3 percent.

That’s close, but doesn’t show Cruz beating her in a general election.

Polls also show that Trump is about to pound Cruz in Tuesday’s primary by taking 50 percent of the vote or more in a three-way contest. Trump’s support in Erie County, where a large swath of the Republican establishment supports him, is especially strong.

Sen. Ted Cruz talks with reporters outside of Charlie the Butcher’s in Cheektowaga. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Sen. Ted Cruz talks with reporters outside of Charlie the Butcher’s in Cheektowaga. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Out in Charlie’s parking lot, Cruz down-played the disparity in size between the town hall meeting he had just left, involving about 350 people, and the rally that Trump’s forces will stage Monday in the First Niagara Center, which accommodates 18,000.

“We are doing campaigning across the country that is not a big show, coming in like the Rolling Stones, making a lot of noise and then leaving,” Cruz said.

Instead, he explained, he stops to answer questions, “look people in the eyes” and describe his policies.

The Republican field has debated many times. But Cruz said voters deserve to see Trump defend his positions in another debate.

“It is astonishing that Donald Trump is terrified to debate ... the reason Donald doesn’t want debates is he can’t defend his policies because he doesn’t have any real substantive policies,” Cruz said.

After unloading on Trump, the Texas senator strode into the landmark restaurant for his sandwich and a chat with owner Charlie Roesch, who received Clinton last week. In hushed tones, Cruz asked Roesch about his small business and the way he prepares his roast beef, among other things. A friendly crowd snapped pictures and asked for selfies with the senator, and he obliged.

Sen. Ted Cruz enjoys a beef on weck sandwich as he talks with Charlie Roesch at Charlie the Butcher’s in Cheektowaga. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Sen. Ted Cruz enjoys a beef on weck sandwich as he talks with Charlie Roesch at Charlie the Butcher’s in Cheektowaga. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Another small businessman sat at a corner table with his beef and barley soup. Ken O’Connell, a home improvement contractor from Lockport, had come into Charlie’s for a regular lunch, then realized he wouldn’t be driving out of the parking lot any time soon because his path was blocked by news trucks. So as O’Connell lingered, he explained how the Republican Party can settle its Trump vs. Cruz rift.

“I really wanted to see him and Cruz team up,” O’Connell said of Trump, as Cruz chatted with Roesch a few feet away.

Trump would be the nominee, Cruz the running mate.

O’Connell said he will vote for Cruz on Tuesday. And he said he has enjoyed the twists and turns of this uncommon presidential election year.

“I’ve never had an election like this in my 60 years of life,” he said.

RELATED:  Photo gallery of Ted Cruz's visit to WNY

Running highlights of Cruz's day

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